The Lovely, Lovely Cloud Forest

Straddling the equator in Ecuador

Today we drove from Quito to our next destination, Mashpi Lodge in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest. On the way, we stopped at the monument marking the equator. The monument had a view deck and a museum, as well as lots of surrounding shops and food stalls. It commemorates the French scientists who came here in the 1700s to confirm that the shape of the earth is flattened at the poles with a bulgy middle instead being of a perfect sphere. Of course, Mick & I had to have our picture taken straddling the equator, to match the one we have from Kenya last year.

One thing I learned in the museum that I found really interesting is that the ancient indigenous cultures here used to bury their dead curled in the fetal position, in a cauldron. Go out as you came in.

View from a trail in the Cloud Forest at Mashpi

Then we proceeded on, slowly due to holiday weekend traffic, to Mashpi. This lovely, serene eco-resort was build on the site of an old logging camp in what is now over 3000 acres of preserve. As promised, it was indeed cloudy when we arrived. I can’t express how much I love it here. Giant flora, lots of birds, and a modern, luxurious building with caring, attentive employees. After getting settled in our room, we met with one of the outings coordinators to learn more about what’s on offer here, then went for an hour-long walk through the forest. Even though it was just a short outing, we saw and heard so much: toucans calling, a White-whiskered Hermit Hummingbird, small blue fruits on a bush related to coffee plants, a giant snail (bigger than my hand!), an ocelot paw print, a guan (type of turkey), and many very cool leaves with amazing vein patterns.

I’m determined to find a balance between doing all the things here and allowing time to really let it soak in. Making sure to sit and look and listen, to sketch and capture colors, and just BE. In between all those great activities that I can do only while I’m here.

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A Quito City Tour

Today’s big news, of course, is that one of the presidential candidates in Ecuador’s upcoming election, Fernando Villavicencio, was assassinated yesterday right here in Quito. Most likely by one of the drug cartels. In the aftermath of this horrible event, all the events scheduled to celebrate Independence Day (which is today) were cancelled. I’ll talk more about what else we saw later in this post.

This morning, in spite of being up really late and getting only a few hours of sleep, we were awake by 7:00 and had a lovely breakfast in the hotel. Our guide Wilson (of Gentian Trails Travel) scooped us up at 10 o’clock and we were off for our big day.

Capilla de Cantuña

We started in the San Francisco Plaza right across the street from our hotel, where we visited the first Catholic chapel built in Ecuador – the Capilla de Cantuña. This is part of a Franciscan monastery that includes a bigger church and a museum of paintings, statuery, and furniture reflecting the Spanish colonization and influence on this area, which was considerable.

From there we drove to the Viewpoint, the hilltop where the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooks the city. This is the tallest statue in South America, at 41 meters high, and is made of aluminum. From this same hilltop there are panoramic views of Quito in every direction, including a really excellent view of Old Town, where our hotel is located.

The Virgin Mary overlooking Quito

Upon returning from the Viewpoint, our next visit was to the Basilica Nacional, which was designed in the gothic style of Notre Dame. Fascinatingly, its gargoyles are animals and birds of Ecuador. We climbed a STEEP set of stairs (really, it was a built-in ladder) to a high tower to enjoy more spectacular views of the city. Then to the Basilica’s cafe to enjoy a snack of coca tea and humita, an indigenous bread made from corn and cheese. It was very tasty.

Birds of the Galapagos as gargoyles at the Basilica Nacional

Then we walked the long, steep (fortunately downhill!) Street of the Seven Crosses to the main city plaza. We had lunch there at the Plaza Grande restaurant, where we could look out at the plaza. Lots of people – walking around, selling things, sitting and enjoying the sunshine. The building to our right was the Presidential Palace, which is comparable to the US White House. The national flag atop the building was flying at half-mast in honor of Mr. Villavicencio, and there was a noticeable police presence – city police, federal police, and special police – according to Wilson, many more than usual. As we were finishing up our meal, there were suddenly a lot more police officers and many people started clearing out. Wilson said it was time for us to go as well, and so we did. As we walked across the plaza to our next destination, we saw dozens of police officers with riot shields and helmets lining up in front of the Presidential Palace and the church on the adjoining side of the plaza. Clearly they were prepared for whatever unrest might come their way.

Police in riot gear at the Plaza Grande

We had just a few more stops on our city tour, and two were particularly memorable. The first was the Gold Church. I don’t even really have any words for this mind-boggling experience. Imagine a large cathedral where pretty much the entire interior walls and ceilings are covered with gold decoration and you’re getting there. We were not allowed to take pictures inside at all. It was an overwhelming display of the earthly authority of the Catholic Church in the name of God.

The final stop on our tour was a delicious one – we enjoyed a chocolate tasting at Yumbos Chocolateria.

Once back at our hotel, we collapsed. Between the enjoyable but long day, with lots of walking, and the effects of altitude (we are at 9250 ft elevation here) we are beat! Tomorrow we head for the Cloud Forest, where we will be staying at Mashpi Lodge.

Overlooking Plaza Grande, with the Presidential Palace on the right

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In Quito, at Casa Gangotena

Just the quickest of updates tonight. It’s been a long travel day, but we are safely tucked away in a gorgeous hotel in the old part of the city. Tomorrow, a city tour with our talkative and knowledgeable guide Wilson. 

Our room in Casa Gangotena

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Ecuador, Here We Come!

Tomorrow we are leaving for Ecuador. Like Africa last year, this is a trip I never dreamed I would be able to take. The Cloud Forest. The Galapagos Islands. I am humbled and grateful to be able to see such marvels so far from home.

As always, I will be blogging each day for those who are interested in following along. In truth, these posts are as much for me as anyone – I love looking back and remembering.

Juvenile Red-Tailed HawkExcitingly, I have a new Nikon D5300 DSLR camera with both regular (18-55 mm) and telephoto (55-300 mm) lenses, so I will be able to take great long-distance photos. This photo of a juvenile red-tailed hawk way up high in a tree behind our house was taken from a distance of over 100 feet (thank you high-school geometry!). As a computer geek, I love the freedom that RAW format photos give me in Photoshop. The only drawback is that they must be edited in order to get a picture format that can be posted online. So the photos I post during the trip will be phone photos, and we’ll all have to wait until after I get home to see the finished ones from the Nikon.

Besides these blog posts, I also keep travel journals. One of the joys of being an artist is making my own journal for each trip, and I have a lovely leather journal cover given to me by my dear friend Brian. Here’s the one for this trip, all ready to go! The cover is pulp-dyed handmade (by me) paper glued to card stock, and the pages are a sturdy bamboo mixed-media paper that stands up to sketching and watercolor. I composed the graphic in Photoshop, and Mick printed it on his coffee-label printer. Perfect!

My handmade travel journal

As a final thought, if you’d like to receive updates by email whenever I post here, you can subscribe to my blog (over on the right ->). I will never share your email address or spam you, I promise!

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The Summer of Art2Life

Study in Red and Gold © Ann Kinsinger 2023

I’ve written before about how my life has been shifting since my mother died, four and a half years ago now. I’m happy to tell you that I’ve continued down the path of deep change.

I never know how things are going to work out. This last February, my All Things Encaustic Newsletter described a free 5-day Art2Life workshop with Nicholas Wilton, so I thought “ok, sure, I’ll check it out.” I really enjoyed those free lessons – I liked Nick, his lessons, and his approaches to life and art. At the end, he offered the chance to sign up for the 12-week Art2Life Creative Visionary Program for 2023. This is not a cheap program, but his videos where he described the program and what it’s about appealed to me on a deep level – in particular, the way he focuses on each person finding their OWN artist voice and expression. So I went for it.

My only real reservation was around the medium used – acrylic paint. I use acrylic paint in my paper arts – creating collage papers and paper cloth, but I am not a “painter”. But I figured, correctly, that what I would learn around value, design, composition, color, and texture would apply to my other work, especially collage and encaustic.

This post is not really about what that 12-week course was about. Let’s just say that it was like trying to sip from a fire hose, and I definitely got my money’s worth. I have access to all the course materials through next February, and I have already started going back through it all at a slower pace. Because it was a LOT, and absorbing everything is most likely a life goal.

But, even so, I have been painting. Making paintings. And the last couple of those? I actually like. I want to do more. Explore more. There’s a long list of techniques that I haven’t even tried yet. And I keep having visions of binding books with hand-painted covers. And exploring all the things I’m learning about value and color and texture and design in the mediums of collage and encaustic art.

Like all the best things in my life so far, it’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

And because I want to stay connected with this online community and keep learning, I’ve enrolled in the Art2Life Academy. It’s an ongoing program, and us new folks get to start with it next week. I am looking forward to it.

Ghost City © Ann Kinsinger 2023


This post’s artwork are my two favorites of my Art2Life student paintings.

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Flying Over the Waters of Belize

Today was magical. We took a tiny plane – me, Mick, the pilot, and the co-pilot who was also our guide – and flew over Belize’s coastal waters, barrier reef, atolls, and islands. The colors were gorgeous – greens, many shades of blue and teal, light and bright in the shallower waters, deep blue in the depths. The little islands were like jewels. 

And the Great Blue Hole, of course, is stunning. 400 feet deep, 600 feet across, with 2 natural entrances. It was caused by a cave that collapsed. In this photo, the white comet-looking streak on the right is the wake of a boat that was leaving as we flew over.

This was our last full day here. After we got back to the resort, we relaxed all afternoon, and I played with watercolor palettes based on what we saw today as well as other parts of our trip. Tomorrow we fly home to pick up our lives again. 

Islands off the coast of Belize

The Great Blue Hole

Watercolor Palettes

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Today I Ate a Termite (On Purpose)

This morning we went out with Captain Bobo on his skiff, traveling down the coast from Placencia to the Monkey River. At last! Out on the ocean! We saw many birds diving for fish, mostly pelicans and cormorants. Part of the trip was through some red mangroves – such cool root systems (picture number 1). When we got to the mouth of the river, as we pulled up to the shore, there were seven pelicans just sitting there on the pier looking at us (picture number 2). We stopped there at the village to pick up our guide Mario (who carried a machete) and place our orders for lunch so they’d be ready when we returned later.

As we traveled up the river, Mario pointed out interesting birds, trees, and plants. After a while, we pulled to shore where there is a trail through the rain forest jungle. As we walked, Mario told us about what we were looking at. Many of the trees we saw were familiar, and I liked that fact that different peoples in Belize use the plants in similar ways. One thing different about this jungle is that the inhabitants include large Blue Land Crabs – we were able to see one (picture number three). They live in holes in the jungle floor.

There is a large growth of bamboo in one area – very tall, with stems 3-5 inches across, growing in such a way as to make a large cathedral-like space. That was amazing to walk through. Then Mario found a live termite nest close enough to reach (they build them in trees) and poked his finger in and got some out. These were little, like little ants. His challenge to us was to try them – they are edible, high in protein, and taste minty. How could we refuse? And yes, they do taste very minty. But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get a decent meal.

After our jungle walk, we went back down the river. On the way, we saw a crocodile, our first. We had a delicious lunch at Alice’s Restaurant (yes, the actual name!) and said goodbye to Mario. Then it was back onto the boat to come back to Placencia. On the way, we stopped at a popular manatee feeding ground to see if we could spot any. It took a while, but Captain Bobo was patient and knew how to look for them, and we did finally see several manatee noses as they came up for air. After that we returned to Placencia and then back to our hotel.

Tomorrow is our last full day here, and we are taking an aerial tour of the Great Blue Hole.

Red Mangroves

Pelicans on the pier

Blue Land Crab

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Nim Li Punit and Ms. Pearleen’s

Today’s adventure was a visit to the Nim Li Punit Mayan Ruin, which is known for its huge carved stelae, or stone slabs and columns. Our guide, Gilbert, walked us around it all – the ceremonial areas, the pok-ta-pok court, the residences and tombs. One large area held stones that mark the solstices and equinoxes – that panorama photo is one of today’s pictures, along with one of the stelae.

After we finished at Nim Li Punit, we went on the the Rio Blanco National Park, where we hiked a short trail to a lovely waterfall. The day finished up with lunch at Pearleen’s Restaurant. This buffet of local food was delicious, and included freshly made watermelon juice. Ms. Pearleen sat with us and chatted as we ate. 

Tomorrow, we are taking a boat trip on the Monkey River. 

Above, the seasonal markers, with Mick for scale. 

Carved stela at Nim Li Punit    The waterfall at Rio Blanco      

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No Jaguars, But Other Cool Things

Today we visited the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, This is a 128,000 acre protected forest that is home to many animals, including 5 species of cats: jaguars, pumas, margays, ocelots, and jaguarundis. Sadly, but not surprisingly, we did not see any of these. We did, however, see and hear many birds and insects. Our guide, Ki, spotted these and patiently helped us see them: toucans, White-Collared Manakins, Montezuma Oropendolas, Red-billed Pigeons, Piratic Flycatchers, and more.

We saw many leaf-cutter ants, and learned more about how they live. All those leaves and flower petals they collect? They bring those back to their nests, where “cleaner” ants clean them off, chew them up, and then all the ants defecate on them. This creates compost, and then the ants plant fungus on that. The fungus is what they eat. So essentially, they are farmers! Some of them are warriors – these are much bigger, and have very strong jaws. Ki stomped on the ground near one nest and got some warriors to come out. Yikes! You would not want to be bitten by one of those. He picked one up (carefully) for us to look at, then gently put her back down. That’s one of today’s pictures. 

We also saw some different trees, including one humorously known as the “Tourist Tree” because it has red, peeling bark. That is another of today’s pictures. There were also trees with significant scratch marks from where jaguars had clawed them, just like when your pet cat claws the furniture! 

As we were leaving, Ki spotted a tarantula hole and coaxed the female Scarlet-Rumped tarantula out so we could see her. I am not fond of big spiders, but she was pretty cool. She is the third picture.

Tomorrow we are visiting a Mayan ruin site, and I will tell you about that tomorrow night.


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On To Placencia, and the Beach

We were sad to leave Chan Chich this morning, it is such a wonderful, peaceful place. An Ocellated Turkey hen posed for one final picture – you can really see her beautiful coloring and little “beaded headdress”. Our flight to Placencia, on the southeast coast, was uneventful. This part of Belize is quite different from the northwest in a number of ways. Of course, it’s a beach culture, and far more touristy. The population here is mostly Mestizo (mixed Spanish and indigenous), Garifuna (mixed African and indigenous), and Creole (mixed African and European). On our way to our resort, we stopped at a grocery store, where I was bemused by the sign for the chemist. 

The first real issues we had on our whole trip were here at the Naia resort. We had a reservation for a beach cabin, which to our minds meant a cabin on the beach. What we got instead was a cabin away from the water, with just a tiny sliver of a view of the beach. Hell, no. So we politely protested, and ended up in a smaller cabin but it is right on the beach, and has a lovely view of the water. Sadly, however, the water here has a severe algae bloom at the shoreline, so you really don’t want to go in the water. But it’s beautiful to look at. The final picture today is of the full moon over the Caribbean, taken right outside our door. 

Tomorrow, we have an early-morning outing to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow night!


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